2015 has got off to a flying start with more Brits than ever heading off to the Greek Islands. Figures for January record a 50% rise in arrivals at airports and ferry ports this year compared to the same month last year. And it appears that Brits are leading the way with a whopping 66% increase in arrivals, followed by the US, Germany and France. It leaves Greek tourism officials even more confident they can break last year's record tourist numbers and hit their target of 25 million visitors by the end of the 2015 holiday season. Good exchange rates against the euro and low prices across Greece this season are thought to be the main conributors to the surge in Greek Island holidays this year. The Greeks certainly need the foreign cash as they struggle to keep up with debt repayments on international loans. Unfortunately, visiting tourists are spending less while on holiday with tourism receipt up only 9% so far.
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Greek Island Holidays 2015
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As an antidote to the usual gushing Greece holiday brochures we offer a more prosaic peek at holidays in Greece and travel in the Greek islands with unbiased reports and independent guides to the best Greek beaches.
Our Popular islands list those in greatest demand. They usually have their own airport and plenty of tourist attractions.
The Peaceful islands tend to be off the main tourist trail and, while some have larger airports, others may need a ferry journey to reach them.
The Sleepy islands are well off the tourist track and may only be reached by ferry, with some a considerable distance from the nearest large airport.
Our Offbeat islands are mainly for those seeking a more remote and authentic holidays in Greece.
Featured Greek beaches
Skala Potamis on Thassos
Skala Potamis is found at the southern end of Golden Beach. A triangle of white sand is edged by a small harbour and an avenue of tavernas and cafes. A quiet, laid-back resort in a very popular holiday area.
Xanemos sands on Skiathos
Xanemos beach is in a small cove at the end of the Skiathos airport runway. A cantina opens in summer and, as the beach is little visited it's popular with naturists, although Xanemos is not an official nudist beach.
Agia Anna beach on Mykonos
The eastern Agia Anna beach of Mykonos is a relatively remote and quiet beach overlooked by a large hotel complex. A sheltered spot with an attractive headland port and the popular sands of Kalafatis nearby.
Greece slipped into third place in the Blue Flag beach quality awards in 2015 picking up flags for only 395 beaches and nine marinas across Greece and the Greek Islands. It places Greece behind tourism rivals Spain, which topped the awards with 578 beaches, and by Turkey with 436 beaches now flying the Blue Flag. in 2014 Greece and the Greek islands were awarded a total of 408 Blue Flags, 15 more than the 2013 but this was cut dramatically after 38 Greek beaches were stripped of their Blue Flags lafter failing spot checks by beach inspectors. Most the Greek beaches losing the coveted Blue Flag were on the island of Corfu. Only seven Corfu beaches qualify for flags this year compared to 30 in 2014. More then 4,000 beaches and 650 marinas qualify for Blue Flags worldwide.
Favourite Greek sights
Archaeology Museum of Kalymnos
Housed in a family mansion, the Archaeological Museum of Kalymnos has a reconstruction of the interior of a typical 19th century mansion house as well as many treasures, some dating from 5,000BC.
Imerovigli village on Santorini
Imerovigli sits on the edge of the caldera with fine views over the bay where the ruins of the fortress of Skaros top an impressive rock outpost. Imerovigli is famed for its cave houses, carved out of the cliff face and still lived in.
Crete war cemeteries
Crete saw fierce fighting in World War II and there are cemeteries to the fallen on both sides. The Maleme hillside has a memorial to the Germans while Souda Bay has the British and Commonwealth War Cemetery.
Scuba diving off the Greek Islands got a new lease of life when diving bans were lifted. Now Greek scuba dive centres are springing up everywhere to meet the demand. Until recently, diving was limited to just a few Greek island dive sites in order to protect the ancient underwater treasures that lie beneath its seas. Now scuba diving is allowed pretty much everywhere in Greek seas with just a few prohibited sites. The result has been a sharp rise in the number of Greek Island diving centres. In choosing one for your holiday be sure to check that instructors are PADI qualified and the wise will take out specialist scuba diving insurance just in case. That said, the crystal clear waters of Greece are teeming with marine life and there are some spectacular caves and shipwrecks for Greek Island visitors to explore.
Planning ahead has always been a headache for those who like Greek island hopping on the extensive ferry system. Summer timetables were never published before May making it hard work to plan a Greek holiday on more than a couple of islands. Now things are different. Ferry companies got together and agreed to release summer routes and schedules at the end of the previous year. The move makes it possible for Greek holiday enthusiasts to cash in on holiday discounts for booking cheap flights early safe in the knowledge that they will not find themselves stuck on an island for days trying to find out when the next ferry sailing is scheduled. The much-welcomed move should help boost visitor numbers to the Greek Islands and help extend the holiday season.
There will be no seaplane services between the Greek Islands this summer. Hellenic Seaways planned to operate around 100 seaplane routes across the islands for the 2015 summer holiday season. But it has admitted that Corfu is the only port so far with a waterway license to operate flights. More than 40 ports are in the licensing stage but there is still no timetable for building and operating waterways. "If all goes well, from 2016 Greeks can fly almost everywhere in the country via seaplanes". the company said. The Greek government stepped in last year to speed up licensing after plans hit by the notorious Greek bureaucratic obstacles. Seaplanes were expected to boost holiday tourism on many islands this summer as wel as providing a variety of tourist excursion packages.
There are more than 6,000 Greek Islands but most are just lumps of rock. Only around 230 are inhabited and about 80 have a population over 100. About a dozen are major holiday destinations with another 20 having substantial tourist visitors. There are six basic island groupings: the Ionian lie to the west and contain holiday islands of Corfu, Lefkas, Kefalonia and Zante. The Cyclades are found in the central Aegean and include Mykonos and Santorini as well as lesser visited islands like Paros and Naxos. To the east are the Dodecanese and major islands like Rhodes and Kos as well as smaller ones such as Symi and Patmos. To the north-east is the Sporades group which includes Skiathos and the north Aegean group of Samos, Lesvos and Thassos. To the south is Crete - big enough to be on its own.